BEIRUT — Forces of Change MPs Melhem Khalaf (Beirut II) and Najat Aoun Saliba (Chouf) were still holding their Parlament sit-in as of Friday night.
Khalaf and Saliba spent Thursday night inside Parliament's chambers and say they're prepared to stay until the election of a new president.
Thursday's presidential election session failed, for the eleventh time, to elect a new president. Khalaf and Saliba remained inside Parliament after the conclusion of the session and announced the beginning of their sit-in.
"We slept here, and we hope that this day will bring new hope for Lebanon," said Saliba in a video posted to social networks.
نحن هنا لنرفع الصوت بضرورة ان يكون لنا رئيس قادر على وضع حدّ لانهيار البلد!— Najat Aoun Saliba (@najat_saliba) January 19, 2023
ادعوا الزملاء النواب للتوجه فورا الى المجلس حتى انتخاب الرئيس! pic.twitter.com/LPhkSVHCjg
Contacted by L'Orient-Le Jour on Friday night, Saliba said that her colleague, Halima Kaakour, will join the sit-in and intends to sleep in the Parliament building Friday night.
"We sleep on the seats," she said.
"Let them explain to us why the dollar is at LL50,000, why the infant milk is out of stock, why people are dying of hunger and why we can't elect a president, and then we will be ready to go home," Saliba added.
The Chouf MP called again all of her colleagues to join the sit-in.
In the dark
In a message posted online on Thursday, Khalaf said he believes that "the election of a president who could save Lebanon has become urgent," adding that their initiative was aimed at forcing Parliament to hold continuous sessions to elect a President.
Several MPs, notably from the Forces of Change group, also spent Thursday evening with them at Parliament in solidarity. MP Halimé El Kaakour (Chouf) on Thursday evening tweeted a photo of fellow Forces of Change MPs Melhem Khalaf, Najat Aoun Saliba, Paula Yacoubian (Beirut I) and Cynthia Zarazir (Beirut I) and herself, inside a darkened Parliament illuminated by cell phone lights.
حضرت قبل قليل إلى البرلمان للتضامن مع الزميلين المعتصمين ملحم خلف ونجاة عون.— Halimé El Kaakour | حليمة القعقور (@halime_el) January 19, 2023
كافة أدوار البرلمان معطلة، في المساءلة والتشريع لصالح الناس كما في انتخاب رئيس/ة.
هذا التعطيل يعود إلى تعطل الديمقراطية عبر بدعتي الميثاقية والتوافقية (= تسويات أبطالها داخليين وخارجيين). pic.twitter.com/vx0duzbYU4
Lebanon has been suffering from severe electricity shortages, including at Parliament, which is provided electricity exclusively during sessions.
No impact expected
Dozens of activists also gathered Thursday night outside Parliament to support the two MPs, with a new timid rally taking on Friday afternoon.
The two MPs' sit-in likely "is not going to have an impact," analyst Michael Young of the Carnegie Middle East Center told AFP.
"In my opinion, what could put an end to the blockage is a regional consensus that would encourage the local parties" to agree in turn, he said, pointing out that in Lebanon, each party has "a regional sponsor or ally."
Parliament is divided between Hezbollah and its allies and their opponents, neither of whom has a clear majority to successfully elect a candidate. The 2016 election of former president Michel Aoun, who left office on Oct. 31, succeeded after 29 months of presidential vacuum — a scenario that could happen again this time.
This possibility is one that could worsen an already historic economic crisis. According to a new study by the World Food Program, one-third of the country's population — that is, 1.29 million Lebanese and 700,000 Syrian refugees — is now food insecure. The study estimates that the situation will deteriorate further by April, with 2.26 million people in "crisis" and in need of urgent assistance.